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“We’re miles apart” – Dalhousie Faculty Association files for conciliator

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Collective bargaining at Dalhousie University has reached an impasse, and the Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA) has filed for a provincially-appointed conciliator.

DFA is the certified bargaining agent for more than 950 professors, instructors, librarians and professional counsellors at Dalhousie.

“We’re miles apart. We’ve offered what we believe was a fair offer right from the outset, which is a one year contract to recognize that there’s a lot of uncertainty because of Covid, and with the same inflation adjustment of 1.25% we had in the last year of the current contract,” says David Westwood, president of the DFA.

The Dalhousie Board of Governors however offered a three year deal with a zero percent wage increase each year. The Board is also asking for very significant concessions to the Dalhousie Pension Plan.

Originally the Board was asking for staff to take a 5 percent wage cut in year one and a freeze in year two, pointing to smaller student enrollment numbers because of the pandemic. That position became untenable after it became apparent that overall enrollment has increased 3.8% over the same time last year, with a 4.8% increase in domestic students and a 0.6% increase in international students. 

“People are wondering, what is going on here? The Board seems to be using the pandemic as a reason to take huge economic swipes at us while staff are working all hours of the day trying to cope with the extra workload because of the switch to online teaching. None of their demands are justified by the economic conditions,” Westwood says. 

At the onset of the pandemic in Nova Scotia a newly formed alliance of higher-education unions called on the provincial government to support the post-secondary sector, but the government has been silent on any new funding. Meanwhile, Dalhousie students are expected to absorb a 3 percent increase in their tuition.

The university’s finances remain uncertain, writes Deep Saini, the president of Dalhousie, in an email dated September 22 to faculty and staff, unperturbed that his earlier predictions around enrollment numbers turned out to be incorrect. 

“…there are still significant financial risks to be managed through this pandemic. Revenue declines are anticipated in several ancillary areas, enrolment and retention numbers could soften through the academic year, and we do not know how provincial funding might change given current government deficits,” Saini writes.

“Unless the Board backs off, there will be a job action, and that’s the last thing anybody needs. I don’t know why they’ve chosen this year to really double down on all these pension issues. Why now and why under these circumstances is not obvious to us,” says Westwood.

See also:  Mount Saint Vincent University intends to cut 100 part-time instructor contracts this fall, says post-secondary education coalition

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